Acclaimed on the podium with the sort of fervor usually afforded only to home riders, Johnny Hoogerland’s battle against injury has made him the darling of supporters on the roadside at the Tour de France, but the Dutchman said that he is focused on survival rather being a star.
Hoogerland was thrown out of the winning break and into a barbed-wire fence on stage 9, after a French television car struck Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky). He received 33 stitches to his wounds, and after attempting to convalesce during the rest day, Hoogerland rode Tuesday’s stage with gauze covering severe cuts on both of his legs.
In spite of his injuries, the gritty Hoogerland arrived in Carmaux in 111th place at 5:59, and successfully defended his lead in the king of the mountains classification. Tears welling in his eyes, Hoogerland was cheered generously as he was helped into the polka dot jersey.
Walking gingerly through the mixed zone afterwards, it was put to Hoogerland that he was now a star of this Tour de France, but the Dutchman rejected the notion out of hand.
"It is you who say it, I don’t feel like a star," a tired Hoogerland said. "I’m just very happy that I’m still in the jersey and still in the race. That was my goal for today – surviving."
Hoogerland explained that he is now living his Tour day by day, and admitted that he is not sure of how well he will be able to recuperate in time for the Pyrenean stages, which begin on Thursday.
"I’ll look tonight at how my wounds are and then tomorrow again and I’ll try and survive," he said. "Then on the stage to Luz Ardiden, I hope I’ll be a little bit in good shape again."
At full fitness, the aggressive Hoogerland was hoping to contest the king of the mountains classification over the course of three weeks. The Dutchman now acknowledged that defending his polka dot jersey in the Pyrenees would be a very tall order given his current plight.
"I’m not afraid for the mountains but if I have the same condition then as I do now, I think it will only be possible for me in the gruppetto," he said matter-of-factly. "But to ride for this jersey I would need to be very good. I was happy with my feeling today, but it needs to be much better to keep the jersey until Paris."
In spite of his protestations that he was not a hero, Hoogerland admitted that he was touched by the support that he had received from the roadside on Tuesday, and from the respect he has received from his peers for continuing in the Tour.
"It was fantastic," Hoogerland said, before leaving slowly for the Vacansoleil team bus. "All the people who yell my name and the people in the peloton who say they have respect for me, that gives me a lot of extra power."